Fitness Fundamentals: Begin and Maintain an Exercise Program

Guidelines for personal exercise programs.

  from The President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports

You have taken the important first step on the path to physical fitness by seeking information. The next step is to decide that you are going to be physically fit. This guide is designed to help you reach that decision and your goal.

The decision to carry out a physical fitness program cannot be taken lightly. It requires a lifelong commitment of time and effort. Exercise must become one of those things that you do without question, like bathing and brushing your teeth. Unless you are convinced of the benefits of fitness and the risks of unfitness, you will not succeed.

Patience is essential. Don’t try to do too much too soon and don’t quit before you have a chance to experience the rewards of improved fitness. You can’t regain in a few days or weeks what you have lost in years of sedentary living, but you can get it back if your persevere. And the prize is worth the price.

In the following pages you will find the basic information you need to begin and maintain a personal physical fitness program. These guidelines are intended for the average healthy adult. It tells you what your goals should be and how often, how long and how hard you must exercise to achieve them. It also includes information that will make your workouts easier, safer and more satisfying. The rest is up to you.

Checking Your Health
If you’re under 35 and in good health, you don’t need to see a doctor before beginning an exercise program. But if you are over 35 and have been inactive for several years, you should consult your physician, who may or may not recommend a graded exercise test. Other conditions that indicate a need for medical clearance are:

  • High blood pressure.
  • Heart trouble.
  • Family history of early stroke or heart attack deaths.
  • Frequent dizzy spells.
  • Extreme breathlessness after mild exertion.
  • Arthritis or other bone problems.
  • Severe muscular, ligament or tendon problems.
  • Other known or suspected disease.Vigorous exercise involves minimal health risks for persons in good health or those following a doctor’s advice. Far greater risks are presented by habitual inactivity and obesity.

    Defining Fitness
    Physical fitness is to the human body what fine tuning is to an engine. It enables us to perform up to our potential. Fitness can be described as a condition that helps us look, feel and do our best. More specifically, it is:
    “The ability to perform daily tasks vigorously and alertly, with energy left over for enjoying leisure- time activities and meeting emergency demands. It is the ability to endure, to bear up, to withstand stress, to carry on in circumstances where an unfit person could not continue, and is a major basis for good health and well-being.”

    Physical fitness involves the performance of the heart and lungs, and the muscles of the body. And, since what we do with our bodies also affects what we can do with our minds, fitness influences to some degree qualities such as mental alertness and emotional stability.

    As you undertake your fitness program, it’s important to remember that fitness is an individual quality that varies from person to person. It is influenced by age, sex, heredity, personal habits, exercise and eating practices. You can’t do anything about the first three factors. However, it is within your power to change and improve the others where needed.